Captive neither by pain, fear nor bitterness

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 7, 2002

By sheer determination – and a generous dollop of talent – this week's coffee-table guest, born within the sound of London's Bow Bells, found herself as a teenager in a choir that sang in honor of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. With that same determination in her 20s, she challenged the old boys' network to earn her membership in the Institute of British Photographers and also to become a woman police constable.

Now 66 and living in Cochrane, Angela Morel sits regally in her motorized wheelchair, the picture of joyful indomitability, unwilling to be taken prisoner by pain, fear or bitterness.

I first met Angela two years ago at Saturday evening Mass. From her wheelchair she sang as a solo a hymn that I knew well by a different melody: "My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine...."

At the end of Mass as the congregation was leaving, she lingered by the organ. (Paul Morel, the organist, turned out to be her husband.)

I came up, introduced myself, and told her how much I appreciated her solo. I asked her if she knew the same piece by the tune with which I was familiar, and I began to sing it.

Before I got past two bars, Angela joined in and from memory we sang the entire hymn together, in gleeful harmony, including the third verse:

"I'll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death, And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath...."

That was the beginning of a friendship in which she has been helping me understand the meaning of those words.

Angela moved to Canada in 1970 with her first husband, Frits, who passed away seven years ago.

Her journey into the wheelchair began in 1984. She took a fall and landed on her knees. The pain was terrible, and over the following years only grew worse.

A decade later, her knees were replaced with metal ones. But relief was short-lived. Within a year, bone at the point of the knee replacement was deteriorating.

There was no surgery they could perform to clear up the problem, so Angela was confined permanently to a wheelchair.

Meanwhile, other health problems arose: asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia and arthritis.

To make matters worse, Angela turned out to be allergic to 39 medications that could have provided some pain relief, including Aspirin and anything containing codeine. Insulin was of no use, either; she is immune to it.

Just when it seemed things couldn't get much worse, her left leg broke just below the hip; previously undiagnosed breast cancer was spreading throughout her body.

Soon thereafter she developed daytime numbness in her fingertips that in the evenings turned a painful red, making it difficult for her to play organ and piano.

Then recently she underwent laser surgery because of hemorrhaging in her left eye.

Angela is regarded as a severely high-risk patient. Yet in her frailty she has shown great strength.

"I've learned we have to enjoy life while we're here," she often says.

Part of that enjoyment has expressed itself in her concern for others, especially for wheelchair access. She herself got stuck in a hospital washroom once, and in her assertive way, "encouraged" the hospital administration to make changes to washroom doors for wheelchair accessibility that very day.

Angela tells me doctors thought she'd be gone years ago. Her response? To accept her mortality for what it is, and to carry on as long as God lends her the breath.

"We go from day to day," she told me the other day. "I think it just makes one bitter when we sit around and worry."

She expresses gratitude for the many who have strengthened her resolve through their prayers. She celebrates her friends in these lines from Old Folks, a poem she wrote earlier this year:

Now in the evening of their years they stopped to reminisce.
And talk of all the things they'd seen, of all the places they had been.
How on each other they would lean, then sealed it with a kiss.

Thank you, Angela, for sweetening our journey with your kiss of hope.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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